Jamaican singer Michael Rose (or Mikal, as he now prefers to be called) came up in the heartland of the original reggae movement, Kingston, part of the same scene that spawned the Wailers, Sly & Robbie, and Big Youth. He had already established a tentative solo career by 1977 when he was asked to join Black Uhuru, a group that arguably had done its most groundbreaking work with Don Carlos and Garth Dennis, both of whom had just quit. Over the next eight years, Black Uhuru essentially became reggae’s Metallica, alienating genre purists while simultaneously scoring hits in multiple countries, eventually becoming popular enough to win a 1985 Grammy award for their Anthem album. After its release, in a classic example of going out on top, Rose announced his intention to retire from music in order to live and work on a Jamaican coffee plantation. Luckily for his fans, he continued to occasionally release singles, until the surprise success in Japan and Europe of his one-off island pop album Proud convinced him to get back in the game full-time. In addition to collaborating with Sly & Robbie, he scored a minor American hit in 1995 with “Short Temper” and rejoined Black Uhuru for a period in 2004, all while recording a steady stream of solo albums, at least up until recently. The 60 year-old Rose doesn’t seem to have released a full-length since 2014’s Crucial World, which his website still headlines as a “new release,” so it’s unclear what kind of setlist he’s got planned for January 19, when he returns to the Belly Up for the first time in just over three years.
A lot of screaming underground metal has come and gone since the last album from Austin-based trio Mammoth Grinder dropped five years ago, with countless similar acts from all over the world currently padding their schedules everywhere from nightclubs to arenas. Their fourth full-length since forming in 2005, Cosmic Crypt, is set for release a couple of weeks before they hit Space on February 15, sporting an all-star mix of contribs including Arthur Rizk (Sepultura), Joel Grind (Toxic Holocaust), and Mark Bronzino and Ryan Parrish from Iron Reagan, all of them vets of bands whose names form a perfect RIYL list for the Grinders. The album’s lead single, “Superior Firepower,” is streaming online, demonstrating little change in the punky death metal sound of previous releases, other than perhaps a bit more attention paid to making sure the lyrics are both intelligible and engaging (not always a given in their chosen field of screams). The other songs I previewed, “Human is Obsolete” and the title track “Cosmic Crypt,” reminded me of San Diego’s own Cattle Decapitation, both in the cheeky humor and the aggressive cadence of a band always guided by one clear, consistent “voice,” no matter the song and whatever the year. It’s a timeless approach to songcraft that carries over to their sleeve graphics, which look akin to most other bands of a similar bent while still featuring elements in each that unite all their releases as a cohesive and consistent (if not particularly unique) body of work.
Also about to release a fourth studio full-length is Luis Vasquez, aka the Soft Moon, whose album Criminal is due in February, several weeks in advance of their Casbah appearance on April 14. If you enjoy industrial-inclined locals such as Author & Punisher and Crash Worship, you’d probably appreciate the young Oakland songwriter’s krautrock-inspired approach to noisy, occasionally robotic post-punk, which on previous releases was mostly instrumental other than bits of Vasquez’s mumbly vocal tracks massaged between layers of the mix. His 2014 album, Deeper, seemed the perfect distillation of his 21st-century muse, a collaboration with Maurizio Baggio that was inspired by a period spent living abroad in Italy. Now back in CA, he just debuted the first single for the upcoming album, “It Kills,” again recorded with Baggio and promoted with a darkly mythic video directed by Kelsey Henderson that unfolds in flashing multiscreen clips of barbed wire, burning flowers, bombed cars, and crashing jets. The bill includes Boy Harsher, an electronic coldwave duo featuring singer Jae Matthews and producer August Muller from Northhampton, MA, best known as the birthplace of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books.
Speaking of comics, the theatrical lead singer of Ukrainian heavy-metallers Jinjer, Tatiana Shmailyuk, is a bit of a comic-inspired creation herself, with a makeup style somewhere between Harley Quinn and Sgt. Kabukiman and a wardrobe right out of a Catwoman comic cover. Musically, they’re all clearly big fans of expansive, ambitious progressive metal groups such as Opeth, Lamb of God, and Pantera, though the female-fronted finishes bring their sound more into the realm of Otep and Guano Apes. They’ve been around since 2010, but it’s only been over the past couple of years that they’ve been garnering much attention outside the Ukraine, mostly on the strength of their sophomore full-length (and debut for Napalm Records), King of Everything, which is still selling almost two years later, thanks to constant touring and revisiting tracks like the live version of the song “Pisces” released earlier this year. Their first North American performances include an April 21 set at downtown’s House of Blues, sharing a bill with prog-metal godfathers Cradle of Filth, who hope to sell you their newest apocalyptic album, Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay.
Probably nobody this century so far has done more to promote mainstream love for classical pop and opera than singer Andrea Bocelli. Blind since the age of 12 following a football (okay, fine, soccer) accident, the Italian superstar is only playing five West Coast cities over the course of a handful of summer dates, including June 21 at Valley View Casino Center. It’s admirable how many diverse venues and occasions he manages to perform at, from the Grammy salute for Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life to huge televised sporting events like the 2016 UEFA Champions League Final in Milan, where he sang the league’s theme song. In February 2013, he performed for the Obamas at the National Prayer Breakfast and, two weeks later, at the Kremlin in Moscow for the 20th anniversary of the Russian natural gas company Gazprom. Even Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, and Nelly Furtado have recorded duets with Bocelli, though he probably didn’t need their help to attain worldwide sales of 80 million records, a number that places him in the same league as top-shelf rock acts like Cheap Trick and Blue Oyster Cult. Though next summer is a long time to wait, tickets go on sale Friday, December 8, for someone almost sure to be the only singer you’ll see in 2018 who has both a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (for live theater) and an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records (for having once held the top three positions on the U.S. Classical Albums charts).